When Things Don’t Work Out…
My son is almost three. He loves music, no doubt. But, at this point it’s safe to say, he hates his music class. We are in the middle of the session, still quite a few classes left. What should I do? What’s the right thing to do (right for him)? I ask myself these two questions before every single class.
He is almost three. His understanding of himself and the world is getting deeper every day. He knows what he wants and especially what he doesn’t want. But, he is still a toddler who tests everything and everyone, especially me and my husband. Many stubborn Yeses and many screaming Nos are, after all, only his efforts to establish or maintain control. My husband and I answer to many of his Yeses and Nos, and, on the other hand, we choose not to answer to many of his Yeses and Nos. It’s a difficult age, for our son, for us, we tell each other almost every day.
So how do I know what exactly is happening when my son says, No, I don’t want to go to my music class. Every time I hear this, I remind myself that we enrolled him in this reputable-university-led early-childhood-music-education class because he loves music and because we wanted to nurture his passion. Is he capable of telling me what he hates about the class? Maybe, to a certain extent, but he is not giving me anything else but, I don’t want to go to my music class, usually in a whiny voice, even when I ask pointed questions.
Now I could just say, OK, but that’s not me. If my son were older, I imagine I would be able to ask questions and get at least some answers, and together with my son, come to some reasonable decision. But, with my son being only three, I have to answer all of the questions myself.
Is it the social aspect of the class that my son finds frightening? Yes, he interacts and plays with kids mostly every day, but never in such an organized setting comprised of at least ten kids and more than fifteen adults (his teacher, student teachers, parents). And he is definitely a kid that most of the time needs time to warm up towards people. Now if it’s really the social aspect of the class that bothers my son, I feel that the class offers my son a great opportunity to practice his social skills. My decision: We are going.
Is it the fact that he has no control in the strictly structured environment of the class? At home, he plays whatever instruments he feels like playing and whenever he feels like playing them. He is also very specific about the kind of music he wants to listen to at a particular time (for example, Gas, Gas means Goran Bregovic and his band; London Bridge is Falling Down, Caught a Fish or whatever nursery rhyme he mentions means that specific song first, then other nursery rhymes). Well, if the structure is a problem for my son, I feel like maybe it’s not a bad idea for him to simply deal with that challenge. He might not be developmentally ready for this kind of structure, or he might be the type who will always resist structure, but either way the class will give him an opportunity to practice dealing with structure, which is an important skill. My decision: We are going.
Finally, is this class maybe just not the right fit for my son? He sings all the time, but his real passion are musical instruments. Many times he will ask me or my husband to sing while he is playing his drum, flute recorder, harmonica, or xylophone. Or he might listen to the music and play along. The class he is attending includes hardly any time with music-making objects. My son is usually very willing to participate any time his teacher brings out any kind of music-making objects, but the moment the objects go into the teacher’s bag, Andrei’s participation ends. My decision: Undecided; maybe I should stop taking my son to this class despite the fact that we committed to the entire session.
But, as unsure, I continued to take Andrei to his music class. Many times we would just sit in the hallway (or at least I would sit while Andrei ran around). The class takes place at a classical music venue (the home of The Philadelphia Orchestra) so there would be always enough activity around us. On one occasion we listened to someone playing the piano, and since then every time we get to the Kimmel Center, Andrei wants to listen to “that guy playing the kyano” (kyano: combination of the English word piano and the Serbian word klavir).
In the beginning, I tried to encourage Andrei to go back to the classroom. Then I realized this worked against me. Every time I’d say, Let’s go see what’s happening there (in the class), Andrei would say, Nooo (in that peculiar tone of voice that translates to “You say Yes, I say No; You say No, I say Yes). When I’d stop mentioning the class altogether, Andrei would actually take my hand and guide me towards the door of the classroom.
Several times he brought one of his instruments into the classroom and played as the teacher sang or just played along with her. The teacher said it was OK for my son to bring his instruments into the classroom (our stroller usually looks like a one-man band). But when I told Andrei he was allowed to take an instrument or two into the classroom, he suddenly refused to take any instruments with him. This strengthened my determination to keep taking him to the class if for nothing else than to help him learn that sometimes things are not exactly the way we want them to be, but there might be a way to make them acceptable to us, although not perfect, and that that might be good enough.
But this is what happened in last week’s class. Andrei refused to participate in the class as usual. We spent some time in the hallway. Suddenly, Andrei’s face gleamed, he grabbed his xylophone from the stroller, and we went back to the classroom. He said he wanted to “play music.” He started playing as his teacher was singing. Passionately. But, a few kids started getting interested in his instrument (more than in the teacher’s singing), and the teacher asked us to take the xylophone out. I took it out, Andrei followed me, saying, “I want to play music, I want to play music.” I have no idea what exactly I told him, why he couldn’t “play music” in his music class, but in that moment I knew we were not going back to this class.
I can’t say I blamed the teacher for choosing to support structure instead of my son’s impulse to “play music. ” I perfectly understood her decision. But, at the same time I knew this was not the class I wanted my son to be in. Suddenly I had the answer to my dilemma: To go or not to go? I knew we were not going back. The class failed my son, but it failed me too. My husband and I chose the class based on the claim that it nurtured children’s musicality and encouraged children to respond musically. I felt that the class squashed my son’s musical response.
I know this is just the beginning. I know there will be many more situations of this kind. Research, testing, failure. I am looking forward to the time when my son can provide input and help in the decision-making process. This was just too hard, trying to read Andrei and make a decision that’s best for him, not deprive him of exposure to music, but also not squash his passion by forcing him to go to a class he doesn’t like.